By Bill Thomas

Summer 2008 issue of the San Clemente Journal

Sidebars: The Expedition | The Columbia Queen, Personal Notes

Our Trip

In June 2008, my wife, Diane, and I enjoyed a weeklong riverboat tour of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The main stage event was Lewis and Clark’s extraordinary expedition, lasting from 1803 to 1806.

Our Vessel

The Columbia Queen is a member of a three-ship armada touring the rivers of the Northwest. With four decks, 218 feet in length, panoramic views from most of the 75 staterooms, a guest capacity of 150, and a crew of 57, passengers received excellent service, attentive concern, outstanding food, informality in dress, incomparable sights and sightseeing experiences.

The Crew

The first evening, we were introduced to Captain Vince Bradford, who was to personally steer us through each of the locks; Mel Drybread, Cruise Director (first week of service) who also doubled as the guitar player in the 4-piece band; Pat Workman, our Discovery Guide who provided lectures and information on our tours and was available for questions each late afternoon; and the cooks, cabin stewards and Purser. The next day, we met the three knowledgeable bus drivers of the comfortable vehicles who provided the lectures and videos during our land excursions.

The Passengers

Many of the 142 participants were retirees from the Southern states of Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Alabama; eight from the Midwest; six from New England; and 14 from California, Arizona, and Oregon; with two from the Bahamas. This demographic differs from ocean cruise attendees in size and international representation. Our collective reason for the trip was the same — we wanted to see the Columbia and Snake River country and learn more about L&C.


Columbia Queen ShipThey were luxurious, many with great window and veranda views, heavy Pendleton blankets, easy chairs, and an entertainment center. One needs a laptop for computer services. However, there were wireless hookups at most ports.


Much of this took place in the dining area — The Astoria Room. The entertainment consisted of nightly performances by two singers and the Columbia Quartet band. Each show featured songs from a different musical era: WWII, film hits, music from the ’40s and ’50s, and a night of dancing, as well as a special appearance by banjo artist, Will Kiefer. Other activities included field trips, CD viewing, the scenery, a well-stocked library and lectures by our Discovery Guide, which prepared us for each of the forthcoming daily adventures.

Food and Beverages

We had great meals in the Astoria Room served by our suite stewards who doubled as servers in the evening. Menus included appetizers, salads, four or five entrée choices with lots of variety and a choice of desserts. Additionally, The Back Porch served complimentary snacks and drinks 24/7. So you always had an alternative to the larger portions of dining room meals.


Each day, we received Compass Points, our newsletter of daily events, as well as Discovery Guides, providing history and background on places we would be visiting. Besides L&C, we learned about the Oregon Trail, the eight dams and locks we would transverse, how each opened and closed, and the hydroelectricity provided by the dams and the dramatic change in climate and geology after boating through the Columbia Gorge.

We also reviewed how the rivers were conquered — from steamboat power to mastering the treacherous rivers via dams and locks. We received an historical overview of how the native Americans survived endearingly through the use of plentiful timber, edible plants, ample game, annual salmon returns, the arrival of horses, and the elaborate system of inner-tribal trade.

We became acquainted with other early explorers who searched for shortcuts across North America, the Corps of Discovery, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the fur hunting companies, and the entrepreneurial creativity of farmers, missionaries, California and Idaho gold rushers, salmon canneries, ranching, woolen mills, timber mills, and the transportation improvements of the rivers, railroads, dams, bridges, and roads.

In sum, the week’s learning curve was “out of sight.” New friends included many interesting co-travelers: Bob and Eileen Forsyth from Pensacola, Florida. Bob is a former career Navy officer who captained destroyers all over the world; Fred and Marsha Hass, Houston, Texas, (Bob headed Toyota auto dealerships in Houston); Donald and Rosemary from the Bahamas (he was also a car dealer); five folks from Alabama who always wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest; and many other friendly individuals “lured” by the “lore” of L&C.

Today, the “lure” is not only the “lore,” of those fascinating tales from history, but the spectacular beauty all of us can admire and experience personally.


Sidebars: The Expedition | The Columbia Queen, Personal Notes


For information, contact Cindy Anderson, USA River Cruises, 800-578- 1479.